While the Philadelphia Union were busy battling their way to a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution, a similar game was unfolding for Union II during their visit to Loudoun County, VA. Union II found themselves up a goal and a man after just the 13th minute, but a gutsy performance by Loudoun United kept the match to a 1-1 draw.
The parallels between the two matches were more than a little eerie. Both Union teams should have been sitting pretty with a lead and a man advantage. But each team struggled to control possession, and their shorthanded opponents managed to pressure their way into an eventual equalizer. The biggest difference is that Union II never got a spectacular last second winner, so they ultimately split the points on Saturday night.
Union II came into the match with a lot to prove after their devastating 6-0 loss the NYRB II on Wednesday afternoon. Despite all of their struggles this season, a win over Loudoun United would have at least gotten them out of last place in their USL group.
The team didn’t wait long to get themselves on the scoreboard. After an ugly yellow card by Loudoun’s Adam Lundegard, Jack McGlynn used the resulting free kick to curl a perfect ball into the box for an open Patrick Bohui. Bohui buried the header and took the opportunity for a celebratory flip.
Union II’s night looked to be all set just three minutes later when Lundegard once again charged out and took out a Philly attacker as he broke free. The commentators disagreed, but the referee didn’t hesitate to deliver a second yellow and send him packing early.
Loudoun would eventually bring on Gabriel Gomez to reestablish their back line as Union II tried to add to their tally. Nathan Harriel nearly headed in the ball off of a corner in the 28th minute and another shot shortly after rang just off the post.
Union II had plenty of attacking opportunities, but everything they attempted was shut down by a man-of-the-match performance by former Reading United and Temple Soccer goalkeeper Simon Lefebvre. In fact, his 13 save performance tied the USL Championship record for most saves in a single match.
With Lefebvre locking down the Loudoun goal, it gave their offense plenty of opportunities to strike on the counter. With their midfield depleted by the red card, Loudoun took to sending long passes forward to a streaking Kairou Amoustapha. In fact, the Loudoun attack was so consistent that the commentators had to repeatedly remind everyone that they were actually playing with 10 men.
This pressure paid off in the 42nd minute as Amoustapha finally found an equalizer. He managed to muscle past Anthony Sorenson on the left side to get a one-on-one situation with goalkeeper Matt Freese. Freese mad the initial save, but Amoustapha got to the high rebound and poked the ball into the open net.
Both sides came back after the half looking to press the attack and break the 1-1 draw. McGlynn looked like the best attacking option early for Union II, nearly scoring in the 46th minute. Halftime sub Brandan Craig nearly broke the deadlock with a free kick in the 55th minute, but another spectacular Lefebvre save kept the game level.
The Union made all five of their available subs as they hoped that some fresh legs would help them find the goal to break the deadlock. But Lefebvre knocked away any shots on goal and the Loudoun defense seemed content to hunker down and absorb the pressure. Selmir Miscic, Axel Picazo, and Paxten Aaronson all got into the action late, but none could find a second goal for Union II.
Loudoun didn’t do themselves any favors in added time as frustration boiled over for their captain, Michael Gamble. He and Picazo went to the ground after a clash at the top of the Union II box and the foul was whistled on him. Frustrated at the situation, he slapped the ball behind him, right into Picazo’s face. This was enough to get him a straight red.
Despite the two man advantage for the final few minutes, Union II couldn’t find a Fontana-like last second winner. Picazo came closest, but his shot in the 6th minute of added time just resulted in Lefebvre’s record tying 13th save.
It was ultimately a disappointment that Union II could only manage a draw despite playing up a man for over 77 minutes (they actually had less possession than Loudoun by a 46-54 margin). But compared to some of the drubbings that Union II have endured this season, the draw is still a sign of growth.
Hopefully that growth will continue as Union II won’t have much time to rest. They’re facing Loudoun again Wednesday at Subaru Park.